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With the rise of K-Pop, K-Fashion, K-Skincare, K-Drama, K-BBQ and K-ERR’THANG, it’s not long before Korea takes over the world. Maybe, maybe not. On a hunt for some good ol’ kimchi, the secret behind immaculately flawless skin and insanely pretty beautiful men, I embarked on a 2-week journey through South Korea, from the volcanic island of Jeju to the bustling city of Seoul. We even did the ever cliché train to Busan in hopes of spotting the lingering zombie. FYI I’ve never actually seen the movie. The 2 weeks were filled with ups and downs, and I surely wasn’t expecting Korea to be what it was, as all I’d seen of it was from their Korean movies and dramas. But for what it’s worth, it really was an eye-opener for me and my family. Follow along as I, the FOMO traveler, take you on a 2-week journey through South Korea, and hopefully, you’ll be able to DIY your own perfect 2-week South Korea itinerary too!
|Cities:||Jeju Island, Busan, Seoul|
|Day trips:||Jeonju, DMZ|
|Ideal Season:||April to May; September to October||Trip Intensity:||★★★☆☆|
|# of Train Rides:||1||# of Flights||1|
|Trip Cost:||~Approx. $1,260/per person||Personal Cost:||~Approx. $890/per person|
|*incl. flights, hotels, long distance trains||*incl. local transport, food, entrance fees|
**Stay tuned as I’ll be posting in-depth itineraries for each city soon!
Don’t leave home without travel insurance! Travel insurance is the most overlooked purchase when traveling, but one of the most essential. Anything can happen when you’re on holiday and you’d want to be covered in the case of travel mishaps such as flight delays, personal accidents or theft. Choose World Nomads Travel Insurance, designed specially by travelers for travelers, so they know exactly what they’re talking about.
South Korea Itinerary
Arrive at Seoul Incheon International Airport in the morning. Once at the airport, pick up your:
- SIM Card – If you’re after data in Korea, prepaid SIM cards run by periods instead of data usage. You get unlimited data for a set number of days. I would recommend booking your SIM card online in advance as they usually have discounts for advanced bookings. Also, English isn’t widely spoken in Korea, so getting everything settled before you arrive is one less headache to deal with. Order your SIM card here for pick up on arrival at the airport.
- Transport card (T-Money) – This is a reloadable transportation card that makes traveling around South Korea really convenient. It can be used on public buses and subways in most metropolitan cities. The best part is you get a 1,000 won discount on journeys when using the T-Money card! You can buy them from the convenience stores located within the airport (GS25, CU, 7-Eleven, Ministop, With Me, Buy The Way, Story Way, etc) and they cost 2,500 won and up depending on the design of the card you choose. We got some Line-themed ones for 4,000 won, mainly because the cashier did not explain this to us. If we’d known, we would’ve saved a couple bucks but I guess they make some cute souvenirs!
Then, take the train to Gimpo Airport. Most domestic flights and low-cost carriers operate from this airport. Take the All-Stop Train, NOT the Express Train from the airport as these go direct to Seoul city! Allocate enough time between flights, and fly out to Jeju Island! Pick up your rental car. We chose AJ Rent A Car as they had the cheapest car rental prices after comparing. To compare prices, you can check out rentalcars.com. Set up camp in South Jeju so you’re close to the main waterfalls and cliffs. Overnight: Seogwipo Compare hotel prices: Booking.com | HotelsCombined.com | Agoda | Airbnb
Today, explore the Southern part of the island where most of the main waterfalls are, and they are all within close proximity to one another. The main sights to hit today are:
- Jeongbang Falls – the one pictured above!
- Cheonjiyeon Waterfalls – not the biggest waterfall, but it’s a very nice walk through the park!
- Jusangjeollidae – spectacular volcanic rock formations!
- Cheonjeyeon Falls – not to be mixed up with Cheonjiyeon, (yep there’s only one letter difference between the two!) there are three waterfalls here!
Today, head further West for mountains and tea plantations. It’s going to be a pretty touristy day, so brace, brace! For some reason, these places were way more packed with tourists than the waterfalls the day before.
- Sanbangsan Mountain – beautiful mountain with a view of rapeseed flower fields in the distance (if you come during the right season!)
- Yeongmeori Coast – just walk a little further down from Sangbangsan and you’ll reach the beautiful coastline
- Innisfree Jeju Green House Café – Korean beauty brand with their very own café! You can even make your soaps here. A nice place to stop by for lunch!
- O’sulloc Tea Plantation – this is just next to the Innisfree Café. Great for tea and green tea desserts! Also, walk through the green tea plantations. Watch out for bees!
- Hallim Park – a park featuring caves, a variety of plants and flowers and even a small zoo!
- Hyeopjae Beach
- Aewol – this is the ‘hipster’ corner of Jeju Island, and is perfect for a sunset stroll by the beach. Also don’t miss Monsant Café that was rumored to be opened by K-Pop Star, G-Dragon!
Then it’s a 1.5 hour drive all the way East to Seongsan-ri. Spend the night here so you can get up bright and early for the sunrise at Seongsan Mountain, also known as Sunrise Peak. Go figure! Overnight: Seongsan Compare hotel prices: Booking.com | HotelsCombined.com | Agoda | Airbnb
Wake up bright and early for the sunrise at Seongsan Mountain. The East of Jeju is also where you can make a trip to Udo Island, but we opted not to. From here, you can explore the North East side of the island.
- Manjanggul Cave – the 12th-longest lava tube in the world!
- Mysterious Road – you definitely can’t miss this. There’s a natural phenomena that happens here when you turn off your car engine and put your car to neutral, and your car will appear to move uphill! Don’t just take my word for it, go do it!
- Dongmun Market – traditional market filled with fooooood!
Drop off your luggage at your hotel, and head out for lunch. Then take the bus to HaeundaeBeach for an evening stroll. I loved staying in Seomyeon because it’s so central! There’s Lotte Department Store next to the train station, and even a huge underground shopping mall that you can’t miss! Seomyeon is also known as the medical district of Busan, where you can find endless clinics offering cosmetic enhancement services 😉 Overnight: Seomyeon Compare hotel prices: Booking.com | HotelsCombined.com | Agoda | Airbnb
Spend the first half of the day at Gamcheon Culture Village. You can easily spend a day here getting lost through the winding alleys and walkways. Be prepared for leg day though, it’s a lot of uphill and downhill climbing! Walk through Jagalchi Market and BIFF Square. Then if you’re not tired of markets just yet, there’s Gukje Market right around the corner. Fun fact: Remember the intro scene to Black Panther? That was filmed at Jagalchi Market! If you’re into animals, visit Raccoonamatata, a raccoon café! They are pretty mischievous though and they scratch! I’ve heard that most people from the States find this really weird because, in that part of the world, raccoons are considered to be pests. But to us in this side of the world, they are really cute and cuddly creatures! To each their own 🙂 Overnight: Seomyeon Compare hotel prices: Booking.com | HotelsCombined.com | Agoda | Airbnb
Visit the largest department store in the world, Shinsegae Centum City Department Store. And after your feet get sore, relax in Spa Land, once of Busan’s best jjimjilbangs (Korean-style spas) located inside the mall. There are 22 different sauna rooms for you to choose from, so you’ll be spoilt for choice. And get ready to strip down to your birthday suit! Fret not though, it’s so commonplace here, no one bats an eyelid. In the evening, head to The Bay 101 for a fantastic night cityscape view. Overnight: Seomyeon Compare hotel prices: Booking.com | HotelsCombined.com | Agoda | Airbnb
After a pretty hectic week, spend the day with a little relaxing shopping. Explore Myeongdong which is a beauty haven in the day, and comes alive at night when roadside stalls open selling everything from food to dog clothes! We loved staying at Myeongdong as there’s so much food and shopping to be done here! It’s also really central and isn’t very far from most of the main attractions in Seoul. In the evening, pop up to Namsan Tower for a bird’s eye view of the city! Head up just before the sunset so you get to see the city both before and after dark. Skip the queue, get your tickets online here! Overnight: Myeongdong Compare hotel prices: Booking.com | HotelsCombined.com | Agoda | Airbnb
Transform yourself into Korean princes and princesses and take the royal route today. Don’t miss the chance to don traditional Korean wear and get free entry into palace grounds! There are plenty of hanbok (Korean traditional wear) rental shops dotted around the palaces that you can choose from. The following cultural spots are within walking distance:
- Gyeongbokgung Palace – the main palace in Korea
- Bukchon Hanok Village – traditional Korean village that actually still serves as residences to the locals, so tourists are not very welcome here. So be respectful when you’re in the area!
- Changdeokgung + Secret Garden – get your tickets in advance for the Secret Garden tour!
- Jogyesa Temple – lovely temple filled with colorful lanterns. Great for a photo op!
- Ihwa Mural Village (optional)
And then end the day exploring the traditional shops of Insadong. If you prefer guided tours, these are some awesome options:
- Seoul by Foot: Secret Garden & Bukchon Hanok Village Walking Tour
- Seoul Palace Guided Tour
- Seoul Historic Walking Tour
Today, head a bit East towards Common Ground if you’re into coffee and a bit of an indie vibe. It’s a cluster of containers that have turned into shops and cafés. On the way back, stop by Dongdaemun Station and explore Dongdaemun Design Plaza. Depending on how interested you are in art, you could spend an hour here or even the whole day. There are art exhibits here you can peruse, or just admire the architecture. In this neighborhood you will find plenty of wholesale shopping malls, so you can spend the day shopping here. If you’ve ever been to Bangkok, the feel is a lot like the malls there. Shop until the sun goes down when the Dongdaemun Night Market starts up at 10pm. Overnight: Myeongdong Compare hotel prices: Booking.com | HotelsCombined.com | Agoda | Airbnb
Jeonju is a cultural village that is known to be Korea’s foodie capital. In 2012, it was designated as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy and is the birthplace of ‘bibimbap‘! If you’d prefer to have a guide who can fill you in on the best spots to visit in Jeonju, check these ones out:
- Travel Lazy: Jeonju Hanok Village Shuttle Bus Package
- Jeonju 1 Day Tour: Hanok Village + Hanbok Rental + Watermelon / Peach Picking + Mediterranean Village
When in Seoul, you can’t miss a day trip to the much-talked-about DMZ. You will have to book your tickets well in advance, especially for the JSA (basically the famous blue house you see on the news) as it’s a politically sensitive area. With that said, tours can also be canceled at the very last minute so be prepared for that. Of course, as it’s a military area, you can only go as part of a supervised tour:
Today is a pretty free and easy day since we’ve covered most of the main tourist sights in Seoul. If you haven’t had your fill of shopping yet, there are still plenty of shopping districts to explore. This is why I mentioned that you can see South Korea in 2 weeks or less! If you are not much of a shopaholic, you can definitely cut your trip a little shorter here! Shopaholics, follow along… One of my favorite shopping districts in Seoul was Garuso-gil, which means Gingko tree-lined street. Plenty of beauty shops here that are a little more upmarket, with a handful of indie cafes. Quite a nice place to wander around feeling a little ‘posh’. Watch out for Ferrari’s and Lambo’s whizzing past the tree-lined streets! Overnight: Myeongdong Compare hotel prices: Booking.com | HotelsCombined.com | Agoda | Airbnb
Another day for shopping and cafe hopping. Head to Hongdae Shopping Street where you’ll find much cheaper prices as this area is mainly catered to university students. You’ll definitely feel a much younger and hipper vibe here too! And, if you’re an animal freak like me, visit some meerkats at the Meerkat Cafe! Another hip area is Ehwa Shopping Street that’s near the Women’s University, which is also worth a look for its unique architecture! Overnight: Myeongdong Compare hotel prices: Booking.com | HotelsCombined.com | Agoda | Airbnb
Phew, it’s been a jam-packed two weeks so now it’s time to pack our bags, say goodbye and fly home!
I hope you enjoyed this 2-week itinerary and I hope it helped you in planning your own little trip. Stay tuned for more in-depth itineraries for each city!
Visiting South Korea Checklist
⇢ Compare flight prices to Seoul
⇢ Don’t forget travel insurance! Travel insurance is the most overlooked purchase when traveling, but one of the most essential. Anything can happen when you’re on holiday and you’d want to be covered in the case of travel mishaps such as flight delays, personal accidents or theft. Choose World Nomads Travel Insurance, designed by travelers for travelers.
⇢ Don’t leave home without a power bank!
MY TOP TRAVEL TIPS & RESOURCES
Here are my top travel tips and resources to help you save money and plan your trips effectively! If you're looking for more tips, head over to my travel tips resource page or my comprehensive guide on trip planning.
- Booking Flights: When it comes to finding great flight deals, I always start my search on Google Flights or Skyscanner. To save some cash, consider flying mid-week or on the weekends, opt for carry-on only with budget airlines, and be open to red-eye or early morning flights. Check out my in-depth guide on how I find the cheapest flights.
- Accommodations: I'm a stickler for finding the absolute best deals on my stays, so I will obsessively oscillate between a few booking sites: Booking.com (in general) and Agoda (for Asian destinations). When it comes to vacation rentals, there's Airbnb or VRBO.
- Travel Insurance: It's always a wise decision to purchase travel insurance for international trips. I can't stress this enough - it's highly recommended! For international travel insurance, I suggest considering World Nomads or SafetyWing. SafetyWing, in particular, stands out as one of the few policies that cover Covid-19. They also offer excellent monthly policies that are perfect for digital nomads and long-term travelers!
- Travel Credit Card: My go-to travel credit card for booking trips is the Wise travel card. I love that there are no foreign transaction fees, so I can pay like a local and never get any surprises at the end of my trip. You can also withdraw cash from the ATMs wherever you are. With Wise, you are always guaranteed the best exchange rate, and I have saved sooo much money just by using this card. Most of the time, I get charged the exchange rate I see on Google, plus or minus a few cents.
- Tours: Most times, I prefer traveling independently but sometimes, getting a guide and a local's perspective makes the experience all the more enriching. When it comes to tour bookings, I trust Viator and GetYourGuide to provide me with excellent options. In Asia, I choose Klook as they are the biggest provider in the region. Plus, you can often get entrance tickets and discounted prices!
- Transportation: To navigate through public transit options and plan my journeys from one place to another, I rely on Rome2Rio. When it comes to rental cars, I compare rental companies and find the best deals through DiscoverCars.
- Connection: It's essential to me to have seamless connectivity wherever I go. I need it to navigate to new places, Google what's around me, and keep in touch with my loved ones. But fumbling around with multiple SIMs has always been a nightmare, which is why I choose Airalo when I travel. No more switching SIMs, just purchase a plan on your phone, on the go, anywhere, and stay connected.
- Luggage Storage: Whenever I need to check out early or take advantage of a long layover, I securely store my luggage with LuggageHero. It's a reliable service that allows me to roam around freely. As a bonus, you can use this link to enjoy your first hour of FREE luggage storage on me!
- What to Pack: I always have packing anxiety once I've left home—you know the phantom feeling that you've forgotten something even though you've checked 372836 times. So I made my own packing list and use it religiously before every trip, and by religious I mean I tick off that list at least 7 times before I zip up my bag. Check out my in-depth packing list here.